Saturday, July 30, 2011

‘The Blessed’ by Ann H. Gabhart – Book Review

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An area of interest to me since childhood is the lifestyle of those who live a simple life, including the Amish and the Shakers. ‘The Blessed’ by Ann H. Gabhart takes us into the world of a Shaker community in Kentucky in 1844 during the U.S. Civil War.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Trapped by obligation, one woman longs for the freedom of true love. It is 1844 and Lacey Bishop’s life is a tangled mess. When circumstances move Lacey to a nearby Shaker village, she is not prepared for the new life that awaits her. In the midst of deep loneliness, Lacey works to fit in with this odd group. But everything shifts when she finds herself drawn to a Shaker man in a village where such relationships are forbidden.
Can Lacey ever find happiness in this mysterious place?

Here is the biography of the author:

Living just thirty miles from a restored Shaker village in Kentucky, Ann H. Gabhart has walked the same paths that her characters might have walked in generations past. Her thorough research provides a colorful background for her Shaker novels. Her first inspirational novel, The Scent of Lilacs, was one of Booklist’s top ten inspirational novels of 2006. Gabhart is the author of several other bestselling novels, including The Outsider, a finalist for the 2009 Christian Book Awards in the fiction category, The Believer, The Seeker, and Angel Sister.

At the beginning of the book, Mrs. Gabhart shares with her readers ‘A Note about the Shakers:’

In Kentucky, the Shaker villages of Pleasant Hill and South Union have been restored and attract many visitors curious about the Shaker lifestyle. These historical sites provide a unique look at the austere beauty of the Shakers’ craftsmanship. The sect’s songs and strange worship echo in the impressive architecture of their buildings. Visitors also learn about the Shakers’ innovative ideas in agriculture and industry that improved life not only in their own communities but also in the “world” they were so determined to shut away. (pp. 8-9)

Here is an example of their unique music style, as well as their architecture, from Pleasant Hill:

As is the case with other religious entities where there are a myriad of man-made rules, the Shaker community in this book was chock-full of hypocrisy. I was saddened to see so many people who were seeking after God beaten down by legalism. It grieved my heart and my spirit (which is powered by the Holy Spirit; imagine how He must feel).

Despite that pessimistic perspective, there were some Shakers who looked on the bright side. One of them was Brother Asa. Here’s a conversation between him and Isaac, a young man he encountered on one of his trips to town. Isaac begins:

        “I was going west. That was the path I wanted.”
“There’s opportunity there. Land for a man ready to work for it. Fortune perhaps”….
“Fortune.” Brother Asa shook his head. “Fool’s gold most often. Fortune brings no man happiness. Happiness must reside within one’s soul. Then we can reach for fortune in the gifts of the spirit.”
“Is fortune one of those?” Isaac asked. “A gift of the spirit?”
“Nay, not fortune as you speak of it. True fortune lies in the likes of these. Love for your brothers and sisters. The desire to give your heart to God and your hands to work. Tasks that satisfy the need to be useful to our society. Worship that fills your being with light. Songs of joy. Peace.” (p. 83)

I loved the perspective on prayer that Miss Mona (not a Shaker) had imparted to Lacey, the main female character:

Don’t think of prayer as a wish list to hand up to the Lord. You’ll be robbing yourself of Spirit power if you do that. Prayer is more than a list of things you get in your head and think you want. Miss Mona’s voice echoed in Lacey’s ears plain as if she was standing right beside her. Prayer is for asking the Lord to help you deal with whatever befalls you. And plenty is going to befall you. It befalls us all. But the Lord is only a prayer away. (p. 263)

I had the opportunity to read one other novel by Mrs. Gabhart, ‘The Seeker’ (you can read my review here). I really enjoyed that book, and knew I wanted to read this next Shaker book from her pen. It was worth the wait! If you’d like to learn more about the Shakers and their beliefs, I encourage you to read this interesting book!

You can order this book here.

Available July 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  This book was provided by Revell for review purposes.

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